United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division
C. NORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the court on United States Magistrate Judge
Kaymani D. West's Report and Recommendation
(“R&R”) that this court affirm Acting
Commissioner of Social Security Nancy A.
Berryhill's (the “Commissioner”) decision
denying plaintiff Sarah Marie Baker's
(“Baker”) claim for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”). Baker filed objections to the R&R.
For the reasons set forth below, the court adopts the R&R
and affirms the Commissioner's decision.
filed an application for DIB on November 20, 2012,
alleging disability beginning August 4, 2009. Tr. 243-47. She
later amended her application to change her alleged onset
date to October 31, 2010. Tr. 248. The Social Security
Administration (“SSA”) denied Baker's claim
initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 132, 153. Baker
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”), and ALJ Kevin F. Foley (the
“ALJ”) held a hearing on June 24, 2015. Tr.
82-117. The ALJ issued a decision on August 27, 2015, finding
that Baker was not disabled under the Social Security Act
(the “Act”). Tr. 72. Baker requested Appeals
Council review of the ALJ's decision. Tr. 56-58. The
Appeals Council declined to review the decision, Tr. 1-6,
rendering the ALJ's decision the final action of the
March 14, 2016, Baker filed this action seeking review of the
ALJ's decision. ECF No. 1. The Magistrate Judge issued an
R&R on March 10, 2017, recommending that this court
affirm the ALJ's decision. ECF No. 13. Baker filed
objections to the R&R on March 22, 2017, ECF No. 15, and
the Commissioner responded on April 4, 2017, ECF No. 16. The
matter is now ripe for the court's review.
Baker's medical history is not directly at issue here,
the court dispenses with a lengthy recitation thereof and
instead notes a few relevant facts. Baker was born on
September 27, 1973, and was 37 years old at the time of her
alleged disability onset date. Tr. 259. She communicates in
English and has attended a technical college. Her past
relevant work includes gas station cashier, fast food
cashier, and general office worker. Tr. 265.
employed the statutorily required five-step sequential
evaluation process to determine whether Baker was disabled
between October 31, 2010 and December 31, 2014, the date
Baker was last insured under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). At
step one, the ALJ determined that Baker had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity during the relevant period. Tr.
64. At step two, the ALJ found that Baker suffered from the
following severe impairments: (1) status post tibia and
sacro-ileum fractures with chronic pain, and (2) depression
with anxiety. Id. At step three, the ALJ determined
that Baker's impairments did not meet or medically equal
any of the listed impairments in the Agency's Listing of
Impairments (“the Listings”). Id. at 66;
see 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1.
Before reaching the fourth step, the ALJ determined that
Baker had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work, as defined by 20
C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), with certain restrictions.
Id. More specifically, the ALJ determined that
Baker: (1) could only occasionally use her left lower
extremity for operation of foot controls; (2) could only
occasionally kneel, crouch, crawl, or climb ramps and stairs;
(3) should be limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks
involving one, two, and three step instructions; (4) should
only have occasional contact with the public; and (5) should
not be exposed to confrontational supervision. Id.
At step four, the ALJ found that Baker was able to perform
her past relevant work as an office clerk, fast food cashier,
and cashier-checker as they are normally performed.
Id. at 72. Therefore, the ALJ found that Baker was
not under a disability, as defined by the Act, during the
relevant period. Id.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
court is charged with conducting a de novo review of
any portion of the R&R to which specific, written
objections are made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). A
party's failure to object is accepted as agreement with
the conclusions of the magistrate judge. See Thomas v.
Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 149-50 (1985). The recommendation of
the Magistrate Judge carries no presumptive weight, and the
responsibility to make a final determination rests with this
court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71
review of the Commissioner's final decision regarding
disability benefits “is limited to determining whether
the findings of the [Commissioner] are supported by
substantial evidence and whether the correct law was
applied.” Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453,
1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Substantial evidence is “more
than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less
than a preponderance.” Id. (internal citations
omitted). “[I]t is not within the province of a
reviewing court to determine the weight of the evidence, nor
is it the court's function to substitute its judgment for
that of the [Commissioner] if his decision is supported by
substantial evidence.” Id. Where conflicting
evidence “allows reasonable minds to differ as to
whether a claimant is disabled, the responsibility for that
decision falls on the [ALJ], ” not on the reviewing
court. Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir.
1996) (internal citation omitted). However, “[a]
factual finding by the ALJ is not binding if it was reached
by means of an improper standard or misapplication of the
law.” Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th